About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

(Not so) new kettle

Our electric kettle sprang a leak, which upset Pebble greatly. You see, it sat on the counter directly above where we fed her, so a leaky kettle meant drops of boiling water landing on a cat's head while she was trying to have dinner.

The things a cat has to put up with!

We then started using an old camping kettle, heating it over the gas hob.

Camping kettle. It's red, and it has a whistle.

This was fine - how did we all get persuaded that an electric kettle is more convenient than a hob kettle? It's no different at all - until it too sprang a leak. It may have leaked before, but we never noticed in a field. Either way, we had the same dripping-hot-water-on-the-cat problem that we had before.

By this time, I was converted to stove-top kettles and started looking for a replacement. I found one I liked the look of and if they'd had it, or something similar, in the local cookshop, I would have bought it, but they didn't. Then I wrote a blog post on thinking about where products come from, how they're made, and whether anyone's exploited in the process. Hmm, new kettle... no idea about the supply chain... guess fairly high probability of exploitation. I paused.

I've long fancied an old copper kettle, but when I've enquired in junk shops, the owners have been leery of the idea I might actually use such an item for its intended purpose. Now I know that our ancestors did many things that we now know to be risky, and suffered the consequences, so I'd be willing to believe that copper is dangerous, but for the fact that all the water pipes in my house are made of copper. If this metal is known to be dangerous, why is it used to deliver drinking water?

A little investigation showed me lots of very expensive French copper cooking pans, but these were all "tinned", i.e. lined with another metal (probably, but not necessarily, tin). OK, so those manufacturers think it's worth keeping food separate from copper, but what about a kettle? Is boiling water more similar to hot food or to cold tap water? Is it the heat that's important? Actually no, it turns out to be the acidity in food that reacts with the copper, resulting in excess copper in the food. Well that's OK, then. Tap water is typically slightly alkaline, so boiling it in a kettle shouldn't cause leaching of excessive copper into the water.

Thus reassured, I set about looking for copper kettles. As well as some that were very expensive, I found this Portuguese manufacturer. I nearly bought one directly, but then wondered if I might be able to find an old kettle. After all, isn't it more eco to reuse an old item than to buy a new one? That was when I found this advert on Etsy (not sure how long that'll stay up, so here's a screenshot - click to see). That really does look very like the Portuguese ones. Being neither new nor antique, it was fairly cheap, too.

It was being sold as an ornament, but its similarity to the Portuguese ones made me take a chance on it being useable. I duly ordered it and, after some delay, received my lovely new copper kettle, and it really is pretty. Furthermore, it turns out to be tinned, so my research on cooking in copper is irrelevant. It's also shiny. The lack of tarnish, as well as the feel against my fingernail, told me that it was protected by a lacquer. Putting that over a flame would be a bad idea. However, the Portuguese site had instructions for how to deal with this: Boil in water with soda crystals dissolved in it (one tablespoon per two pints). So I did.

Ian said I'd misunderstood, Boiling the kettle

It took ages to get all that water to boil, but when it finally did I saw clouds appearing in the water...

Something's happening

... which, when poked with a spoon, turned into dollops and strings of gloopy lacquer.

There we are! Lovely gloop.

Once I was satisfied I'd got all the lacquer off, I washed the kettle thoroughly and boiled and discarded one kettleful of water. I now have a lovely, shiny, new(ish) copper kettle.

Shiny new kettle

Of course, it'll take some polishing to keep it shiny, but I don't mind the duller look of slightly tarnished copper, so that'll be fine in between times. There's no whistle, which we're a bit sorry to lose, so I'll just have to listen to the sound of the water as it boils, the way my mother taught me when I was little. It does pour beautifully, too.


  1. My husband would have said exactly the same thing as Ian about boiling the kettle!
    It's lovely, much nicer than a new electric one.

    Husband is coming to Wales, but apart from no passing traffic where you live, his colleagues that have already been have said he won't get chance for anything much other than work.
    Wales is often our family holiday destination though, so we might yet all wave to you from the window of a passing steam train!

    1. What is it with work trips, that they always insist on so much work?

      Do let us know if you're coming this way. I can make you a cup of tea using my new kettle!


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